We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, January 21, 2019


Michael Fennelly, Jessica Faselt, Megan Esther Grey, James Ley, Rebecca Pedersen, Jane Shaulis, Dashuai Chen, Brent Michael Smith, and Jeff Byrnes at Opera Index Award Dinner

It was the coldest night of the year and also the night of a total lunar eclipse. Yet nothing could eclipse the talent onstage at the Opera Index Award Dinner honoring the lovely and beloved soprano/voice teacher Diana Soviero who was so lovingly introduced by her student Jennifer Johnson Cano and by the famous WQXR radio announcer and personality Nimet Habachy.  If you are seeing all the "love" words you will know how we personally feel about the tribe gathered to celebrate at the Essex House. 

Ms. Habachy's anecdotes about the honoree tickled everyone's funny bones and Ms. Cano had warm and devoted words about her teacher. We have been extolling Ms. Cano's vocal virtuosity since we began writing our blog but we never knew that she was a student of Ms. Soviero. It is always heartwarming to hear credit given where it is due.

The entertainment portion of the evening was provided by seven of the sixteen prize winners of the Opera Index annual competition for young singers, accompanied by piano wizard Michael Fennelly. The nine others, some of whom graced the stage of the annual Opera Index Members Party, were presumably occupied singing around the country and abroad, along with so many winners from prior years who have achieved fame on opera stages.

We were particularly impressed, or should we say "blown away" by soprano Jessica Faselt's performance of "Dich, teure Halle" from Richard Wagner's Tannhaüser. Adjectives that came to mind were "electrifying" and "convincing". The overtones bounced around the room and delighted our ears. Wagnerian voices are rare indeed and we predict a grand future for this captivating young woman.

Baritone Jeff Byrnes utilized his richly toned instrument to create the character of Count Almaviva, clueless in the face of his wily servant Figaro. "Hai gia vinta la causa" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro gives the baritone an opportunity to color his voice with bafflement, resentment, and an entire range of emotions; Mr. Byrnes seized this opportunity and ran with it from start to finish in a dramatically valid performance. 

Mezzo-soprano Megan Esther Grey performed "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto", the first act lament of Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux.  Poor Sarah is pining for the titular Roberto, her husband's best friend. Ms. Grey sang with an appealing vibrato and plenty of strength in the lower register. There was a well controlled pianissimo, indicating excellent breath control.

"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns was a great choice for the full-throated tenor James Ley who sang in impeccable German and without any vocal strain. We enjoyed his commitment to the ardent romanticism of the aria.

What would a program be without a little verismo! Soprano Rebecca Pedersen gave a fine performance of "Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. Reinforced by Mr. Fennelly's piano artistry, she created the character of the repressed Nedda envying the freedom of the birds. Mr. Fennelly provided the birdsong...music to our ears, so to speak.

The only English aria on the program was, happily, one by Purcell--"Arise, Ye Subterranean Winds" from The Tempest. It is always a joy to hear such flexibility in a bass and the very lowest part of the register did not daunt Brent Michael Smith, who managed to invest each verse with different coloration.

Closing the program on a high note, so to speak, was tenor Dashuai Chen who gave a polished and winning performance of the Duke's famous aria "La donna è mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto. Everything was in place and his legato was notable. The audience went wild for his s-u-s-t-a-i-n-e-d "money note" at the end.

Speaking of the audience, it was gratifying to see that the frigid weather did not keep away the ardent supporters of Opera Index who turned out in glamorous finery suited to the occasion. It is the generous membership of this fine organization which supports these young singers and nurtures their careers.

(c) meche kroop

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